August 15 is celebrated every year as National Relaxation Day. But do we really need a special day to relax? Shouldn’t we be doing it every day, or once a week at least? Yes, we must; but unfortunately, our lives have got so hectic that we forget how important relaxation is for our mind, body, and soul. We are busy attending meetings, taking phone calls, caring for kids or other family members that we scarcely find ‘me time’ any more. This is exactly why having a day to remind everyone that you need to wind down, relax, and de-stress is important.
Did you know being stressed for long periods of time can take a toll on your physical health? Continuous or frequent stress can lead to the following health problems:
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Headache and anxiety
- Muscle tension or pain
- Chest pain
It can also make you irritable, overeat, lead to smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, reduce your ability to focus on tasks and function normally, and even affect your sex drive. Some people even stop interacting with others socially. In the long run, this could affect your kidneys and heart too.
The National Relaxation Day is a reminder for each and every one of us to slow down, de-stress, and ‘smell the coffee’, as they say. Here are some stress relieving tips to help you relax and recharge your batteries; not just on this 15th, but every day.
1. Smile a Lot
Surprised? Well, it is true, though; force a smile even when you’re not feeling like it, and eventually, you’ll find that it comes naturally. Smiling helps to keep the stress away. It can help to keep the body’s stress response low. Studies suggest that smiling releases endorphins, the ‘feel good’ hormone, and reduces cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’.
2. Work Out
Exercise, and work up a good sweat; exercising releases endorphins and helps to elevate your mood. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise is a very important tool in eliminating or reducing stress. So, if you don’t work out regularly, this is a good time to start! If you’re unsure of the exercises that are ideal for you, you can get in touch with a professional exercise physiologist who can talk to you about your fitness goals and formulate a custom workout regimen for you. He/she can also guide you on how to monitor your progress at home.
Meditation is basically a state of rest; sit comfortably with your eyes closed and breathe deeply, emptying your mind of all worries and thoughts. Some people find it helpful to focus on one powerful image or thought while meditating – you can choose whatever suits you the best. You can also try body scan meditation – where you focus on each body part; starting from your feet, you simply focus and become aware of your body and its various parts. Of course, for this, it’s ideal that you are lying down comfortably with legs uncrossed. First, focus on your breath, and then start focusing on your feet; after a few seconds, move up to your ankles, and so on, till you reach the head.
4. Pick up a Hobby
It is essential to have a hobby that you truly enjoy, and is yours alone – don’t involve family in it as far as possible, otherwise it will likely to turn into work! Baking, cooking, gardening, reading, watching movies or TV shows, listening to music, singing, playing an instrument, knitting, crafts, collecting things – whatever makes you happy and feel relaxed is great. It will also help to boost your self-esteem greatly.
5. Practice Controlled Breathing
By controlling your breathing, and taking deep, slow breaths, you not only take in more oxygen, you also slow down your heart a little. Athletes who are at the peak of their physical fitness have heart rates in the 40s or 50s. This means your heart has to work less to supply oxygen to your body, keeping it healthy for longer. Here is how to practice deep breathing:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back upright. Keep one hand on your tummy and the other on your chest.
- Breathe deeply through your nose, causing the hand on your tummy to rise, without moving the hand on your chest much.
- Expel the air strongly through your mouth and push out as much air you can; contract your abdomen. Again, the hand on your tummy should move, and the hand on your chest should be still.
- Continue this for a few minutes.
Stomach breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, activating your body’s relaxation response. It brings down the heart rate and reduces stress levels.
Getting a massage at least once in 30 days is a good idea; massage helps to relieve the physical tension in your muscles, helping to melt your stress away. If you can, try and get one session every fortnight. You can also massage your neck, shoulders, calf muscles and feet yourself, every day or once in 2-3 days. Using aromatherapy oils can increase the benefit of the massage.
7. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This involves two steps: tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body. Once you do it a few times, you will learn to recognize what tension and total relaxation feels like in various regions of the body. This will be helpful when you start experiencing stress – you will know the moment your muscles start tensing, and you can react, and relax. Talk to your primary care physician if you have a history of muscular pains or other problems or injuries that may be aggravated by this practice.
- Wear loose clothing and remove your footwear; lie down, and breathe in, slow, and deep; do this for a few minutes.
- When you feel ready, focus your attention to your right foot, become aware of it; then squeeze those muscles as tightly as possible, holding till you count 10 – and then relax it. You can feel the tension ebbing away; understand how your foot feels as it loosens.
- Remain in the relaxed state for a couple of minutes, continuing deep breaths.
- Move to the other foot, and repeat the entire sequence.
- Similarly, work your way up till you reach your shoulders; if you can, you can also try it with your facial muscles.
Each person has to find what works to reduce stress for them; we are all individuals and have our own preferences and likes. So, this National Relaxation Day, find the best possible way to relax and de-stress and work your way towards good health and fitness.
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